The Spiritual Elite
One of the driving forces behind pietistic evangelical fundamentalism is its desire to be on the cutting edge of true spirituality. We will have none of that two-tiered Roman Catholic brand of Christianity where the priests are required to live holy lives on behalf of a people who get to be normal! No way! Every believer is a priest who is required to talk like an epistle and live like an apostle.
Do you go to church only on Sundays? You are clearly in need of some sort of Damascus Road experience. Have you failed to read all of Sproul’s or Swindoll’s or Tozer’s books? Slacker! You don’t pray for an hour every day and read your Bible through at least twice a year? And you really think you’re saved?
For the average serious evangelical, a church is not really a church unless it is filled with Green Berets for Jesus. We hold to the notion that the true church is the home of the Spirit-filled elite and the apostolic meat-eaters. And if not? Look out. Ministers will be brought into such ordinary congregations to exhort the people to be like a missionary society or a para-church organization. How can they prove their commitment? They must give more than a tithe. They must daily get up at 5 a.m. and pray for an hour. They must evangelize every unbeliever in their office before the next service where they will be expected to give their testimony of success. They must dress like Ozzie and Harriet, talk like Charlton Heston doing Moses, and eat like St. Francis of Assisi.
In the early days of the church, one of the major battles to be waged was against the infiltration of Gnosticism. Usually, these people believed that the truly spiritual were those who had received special knowledge, special revelation. Gnostics did not believe that created matter (e.g., the flesh, the earth, time) could ever attain to something like holiness. Matter was evil, spirit was holy. People who lived normal lives—who did things like get married, have children, work with their hands—were worse than dogs. Only those who sought to escape this world of matter and ordinariness to the perfect world from where they originated were holy.
So what happened when those who wished to be uncommon came into contact with the blacksmith who claimed to have been born-again—and remained a common blacksmith with a common wife and common children, who lived common lives and died commonly? “This cannot be! How can this laborer claim to have had the same spiritual experience that we have enjoyed?” This would not do. If the masses could accept the faith, then something more must be required. There had to be a higher plane, a deeper life: one where the meat-eater would not have to rub shoulders with milk-drinkers.
It was simply not acceptable to these Gnostic elite to be lumped together with such earthy people. What was the solution to their dilemma? Create another tier of spirituality—The Deeper Life Club, which alone could claim to be the truly, authentic, spiritual, holy, New Testament church!
(Tomorrow: What happens when Christians grow more enamored with spiritual elitism and Movements, rather than Christ and the Gospel?)
- Copyright Monte E. Wilson; originally published in Reformation & Revival, Volume 8, No. 2, spring 1999. Reprinted with permission from Monte E. Wilson, who blogs at monteewilson.blogspot.com and can be reached at MonteThird@aol.com. ↩
- Any accompanying illustrations are my own additions, not part of the original article. ↩